HIS inauguration is still six weeks away but Donald Trump has already sent shock waves through American business. Chief executives—and their companies’ shareholders—are giddy at the president-elect’s promises to slash burdensome regulation, cut taxes and boost the economy with infrastructure spending. Blue-collar workers are cock-a-hoop at his willingness to bully firms into saving their jobs.
In the past few weeks, Mr Trump has lambasted Apple for not producing more bits of its iPhone in America; harangued Ford about plans to move production of its Lincoln sports-utility vehicles; and lashed out at Boeing, not long after the firm’s chief executive had mused publicly about the risks of a protectionist trade policy. Most dramatically, Mr Trump bribed and cajoled Carrier, a maker of air-conditioning units in Indiana, to change its plans and keep 800 jobs in the state rather than move them to Mexico. One poll suggests that six out of ten Americans view Mr Trump more favourably after the Carrier deal. This muscularity is proving popular.
Popular but problematic. The emerging Trump strategy towards business has some promising elements, but others that are deeply worrying. The promise lies in Mr Trump’s enthusiasm for corporate-tax reform, his embrace of infrastructure investment and in some parts of his deregulatory agenda. The dangers stem, first, from the muddled mercantilism that lies behind his attitude to business, and, second, in the tactics—buying off and attacking individual companies—that he uses to achieve his goals. American capitalism has flourished thanks to the predictable application of rules. If, at the margin, that rules-based system is superseded by an ad hoc approach in which businessmen must take heed and pay homage to the whim of King Donald, the long-term damage to America’s economy will be grave.